Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). They are a very common STI in the United Kingdom, and while there is no cure for HPV; the symptoms themselves can be treated and managed very effectively.
Tests for genital warts
In general, genital warts can be easily diagnosed by inspection. This means that they will normally be examined by a medical professional who may use a magnifying lens to be sure of their diagnosis. For women, if the inside of the vagina is to be examined, then a speculum will be used to allow appropriate observation of the cervix and inside the vagina.
Warts do not cause pain unless they become irritated by friction or trauma. While many STIs can be identified by symptoms of discomfort, on the whole, warts are diagnosed simply through observation.
Genital warts treatment
The method of treating genital warts is likely to be dependent on the severity of the infection. This will include the size, volume and texture of the warts.
We have two medicine treatments for genital warts available from our online doctor service:
- Warticon (podophyllotoxin) is used to treat small fleshy warts. It physically burns off the wart. The warts take around one month to disappear (sometimes longer) but do often return.
- Aldara (imiquimod) is a genital warts treatment cream that works best on larger warts. It works by assisting your body's immune system in fighting the warts, as well as HPV itself. It may take several weeks or months before the treatment is complete. Warts treated with Aldara are less likely to recur.
In more severe cases, you may want to consider physically removing the warts:
This involves freezing the warts with liquid nitrogen or dry ice. This causes the outer membranes of the wart(s) to split, killing the cells of the growth. It can take up to three weeks for the skin to heal after cryotherapy and it's a good idea to abstain from sex until it's fully healed.
The wart is essentially cut off with a scalpel whilst under local anaesthetic. The wound will then be stitched afterwards. Excision is normally used on smaller or larger warts that have become hard to the touch, to avoid scarring.
This is an option for large warts that have not responded to medicinal genital warts treatment. A metal loop is run round the wart and a current is passed through it which burns away the wart. As the treatment can be painful, it is normal for a regional anaesthetic to be given to numb your whole body below the waist or even a general anaesthetic.
- Laser surgery
This is used to treat larger warts that may be difficult to access with other methods. For example, those that are deep inside the anus or urethra. It may also be used for pregnant women who have failed to respond to medicinal treatments. In this instance the warts are literally burned away with a laser. Depending on the severity of the surgery it may require either a local or general anaesthetic.
As with all forms of wart treatment, you should not have sexual intercourse until you are fully healed. This may take up to four weeks after excision or laser surgery.
Unfortunately, none of the physical treatments for warts eradicate HPV which is the underlying cause of warts, so there is always a chance of recurrence.
Are you sure you have warts?
We’ve noticed that some of our patients are confused about different STIs. Warts are small firm or fleshy nodules that slowly grow or spread. They usually do not cause any pain or itching and often go unnoticed for weeks or months. Skin tags are small extra bits of skin that can feel like warts to some people. If you’re not sure, then you need to see a doctor or send us a photo via our GP Photo Upload Service.